Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at the Rite of Christian Initiation ceremony, St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral in Dublin
I welcome all of you to this important moment in the life of the Church of Jesus Christ in this city and this Archdiocese of Dublin.
There is a sense in which the Church is particularly visible at this liturgy, where representatives of the entire Church recognise their responsibility for sharing and spreading their faith in our times. I congratulate those parishes and communities who have prepared these brother and sisters of ours for the Christian initiation.
I greet the catechumens and candidates. I greet the volunteers from the diocesan programme of the Rite of the Christian Initiation of Adults, men and women of mature faith who accompany the Catechumens as they journey into the fullness of Catholic faith with their baptism and confirmation and full sharing in the Eucharist on Easter Sunday. With them ,I greet the candidates who already baptised will be received at Easter into full communion of the Catholic Church.
The Christian initiation of adults is the responsibility of all the baptised. The presence here of priests and religious, parish pastoral workers from our various parishes represents what the Church is and what are parishes are. The faith is shared and transmitted not simply though books. It is shared within community. It is shared in that community which worships Sunday after Sunday in the Eucharist.
On this first Sunday of Lent we gather here in this Cathedral or Mother Church of the faith community in this local Church of Dublin. You gather here with me as your Bishop, the first catechist in the diocese and the one called to build the Church as a Eucharistic community.
We gather in the season of Lent. Lent is a time of grace. One of the prayers of the Lenten liturgy refers to Lent as a joyful time. It is joyful because it is a time of return to God; the small things we give up and the works of goodness and love that we take on are a sign of our need to turn away from the many false Gods, the false idols of our age which can seduce us into empty promises of happiness. Lent is a moment of conversion, of changing motivation, of changing direction in our lives towards God.
The entire Christian life is a path of conversion. As we grow in age and maturity, as the world around us changes, as our role in life changes we have continually to find the space to ensure that in each new situation of our lives our faith grows and deepens. Our formation in the faith and in the discipline of the Christian life is not something that ends at school, when, as it were, we reach the last question of the Catechism. The path of growing to maturity in the faith is life-long, marked by ups and downs, by moments of fulfilment and moments when we fail.
The path to maturity in our faith requires that we deepen that faith day by day and that we integrate that faith into our lives. Dear Catechumens and Candidates, you stand before a major moment of conversion in your lives. But that process of knowing Jesus and placing your lives trustfully in his hands must continue every day of your life.
The path of Christian initiation which you have followed recalls all of us of the need to deepen our faith. Our faith must be an adult faith. I believe that the Church in Ireland is at a cross roads. I have repeated on many occasions that the Church in Ireland will face one of its biggest ever challenges between now and the year 20020, that is a period of just eight years.
The Church in Ireland has been wounded by the scandals within it and how they were dealt with. But below that wound lies something deeper: there is a real crisis of faith and a crisis of faith can only be addressed by real renewal in the faith. A crisis of such dimensions requires responses which must really shake-up and wake-up the Church. Already we have new Directory of Catechesis Sharing the Good News, which is a revolutionary document. But revolutions are not achieved by half-hearted or piecemeal responses. Our current system of faith formation, both for those attending school but also for adults, is not adequate. The enthusiasm for change in the way we transmit the faith is insufficient.
The Church in 2020 will be a very different one to the one we encounter today. The institutional role of the Church in Irish society will be different. The Church must learn to focus on what is essential in its renewal. That renewal must be a renewal in faith, in an encounter with Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth and the life. The Church’s role in society will be different, but not irrelevant. Its contribution will come from a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and how Jesus provides answers to the basic questions about life.
Is faith relevant in today’s society? Where to we turn to understand what faith in Jesus Christ means for our lives? We have first to begin with ourselves and reflect on the significance of who we are and allow ourselves to understand that our own self-sufficiency will not be enough to provide the answer. It is only when we open ourselves to something which leads us beyond ourselves that we really understand ourselves. This is what the transcendent is. But for us Christians the transcendent is not a philosophy or a vague idea. It is a person, who came to reveal to us who God is and what following him means: Jesus Christ.
Today the Church in Ireland needs a radical new evangelization. That evangelization has to touch every element in the Church, beginning indeed with its leadership. But as we have seen often in history, renewal will not always come from structures and institutions but from the witness of lives lived in coherence with the Gospel by the entire Christian community.
The Christian life is not just a vague philosophy about doing good. The thrust for goodness and love is indeed vital. But Christianity is not just a vague spirituality of goodness. It is about the salvation that comes with Jesus Christ. Dear Catechumens and candidates, you have come to understand the significance of Jesus for your lives. We thank God for that grace. Through your faith you are a sign of hope for the Church, because you understand what the Church is.
To know Jesus we must know the scriptures and we must come to share in the life that comes to us in the Eucharist. In this diocese we have introduced new programmes of fostering knowledge of the scriptures. Much is being done. In my meeting with young people such as at World Youth Day or in these days in some of our Universities I have seen the desire of young people to be led to a deeper understanding of their faith. Young people take part enthusiastically in the Pope John Paul II awards programme.
Many parishes are responding in a renewed way, especially through programmes of Lectio Divina or through participating in the interactive programme Word of the Web. But that has to become part of the mainstream of Church life and not an optional extra. There is still inertia. Two years ago, the Archdiocese of Dublin distributed copies of Saint Luke’s Gospel widely in our parishes and communities. Unfortunately there are still copies of that Gospel that have not been taken out of their plastic packing and there are those who say that therefore the project was a waste of time and money. Those however who used that occasion have seen renewal in the life of their communities.
The Gospel readings which are chosen each year for the first Sunday of Lent are about the temptations of Jesus. In all each of these Gospel accounts Jesus is lead into the wilderness. In the wilderness, Jesus is tempted. The wilderness is barren and dangerous territory. It is the place where you are on your own. Wilderness is however also opportunity. It is when we are on our own that we see how much we all depend on the goodness of God. It is when we are on our own that we realise that despite all our unfaithfulness, God remains faithful to us and will be there to support us at our moments of weakness.
Lent is about new beginning. It is about all of us changing the direction of our lives. It is about each of responding with total integrity to the specific vocation to which we are called in the Church. It is about allowing Jesus Christ to come into our lives and change our hearts and overcome the false idols of the world. May the Lord protect us and protect and renew his Church in this Lenten season. ENDS
Notes to Editors
Catechumens are those who have begun a process of formation in Christian faith, particularly rooted in the Word of God, and nurtured and supported by the faith, witness and companionship of the Christian community.
After today’s celebration they will be called the elect and will begin their final period of preparation, which corresponds with Lent, for the Christian Initiation at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night.
Candidates are those who are already baptised into another Christian communion, who wish to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church in their parishes through the reception of Confirmation and Eucharist, also at the Easter Vigil.
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